Warren C. Easley,
Never Look Down: A Cal Claxton Oregon Mystery
(Poisoned Pen Press, 2015)

Cal Claxton used to work as a prosecutor down in stressful Los Angeles. Now he is a widower living in rural Oregon, where he divides his time between small-town lawyering, providing pro bono legal advice to the down-and-outs of Portland, and enjoying the landscape of the great Northwest. It's a pretty good way to spend one's days -- especially when you can share it with a devoted Australian shepherd named Archie.

Portland has city code ordinances against graffiti vandalism. This doesn't stop some young people and amateur artists from arming themselves with cans of spray paint and filling what they see as blank canvases all around them. One teenager named Kelly has taken the art to a whole new level -- literally -- as she combines her love of mountain climbing with her slightly illegal love of tagging. Cal doesn't know it yet, but the artwork he suddenly spots halfway up the side of his downtown office building (Caffeine Central) was created by Kelly.

The trouble is, when you're out and about during the darkest hours of the city, you may see things you'd be better off not seeing. Kelly is perched high above a street one night when she witnesses a deadly shooting that takes place below her. She scrambles out of the killer's sight, she thinks, and is injured in the process. Now she has to make sure that no one discovers that she is "K209." Her life may depend on this. And she can hardly go to the police to share what she saw, even after two more men (and one, a friend) are killed. In spite of the danger, though, she's curious enough to start figuring out on her own the identity of the killer she thinks of as "Macho Dude." What is really happening in Portland?

Cal also has connections to this murder. The victim was Claudia Borrego, the fiance of Cal's office landlord and friend, Hernando Mendoza. Nando asks Cal for support and for help in learning about the reasons and the responsible parties behind Claudia's death. Cal is eager to lend an investigative hand, while he tries at the same time not to interfere with the efforts of the local police force. By now he already has history with some of its members. He too begins to track down the primary players in this tragic tri-fold drama.

The chapters alternate between the first-person narrative of main character Cal and the third-person story of young artist Kelly. As you may expect, the separate paths of the lawyer-investigator and the teenage painter begin to narrow as both of them start following similar leads. This is a great tension-building technique chosen by the author. And by the halfway point of the book, we don't want to leave either character. We keep reading and turning pages, hoping against hope that the two will soon come together and team up against the evil parties. We also want Cal to be able to help Kelly out of whatever trouble she may find herself in (or vice versa), because this incident is obviously bigger than just the untimely death of one woman and two men.

The trail unfortunately seems to stop at a city gun shop. And too many guns are involved. Still, we expect justice to be served to the killer(s) in the end.

Never Look Down is the third episode in this compelling and worthwhile mystery series. If you already read the first book, Matters of Doubt, you may be pleased to know that its character Picasso, a young mural painter, makes a few appearances in this one. You can also read a review of the second episode, Dead Float, here. Be apprised that this current book doesn't contain as many fly-fishing scenes as the second one did, being more urban than rural. Since the city is where the murders take place, it's also where the investigations have to be done.

I'm pleased to have the chance to gleefully recommend reading this installment and the entire Cal Claxton series. Once you reach the midway point of any one of these books, you won't want to stop. And I can't wait to see what will happen next in this man's corner of the world.

[ visit the author's website ]

book review by
Corinne H. Smith

12 September 2015

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